Friday, May 11, 2012

A Girl's Survival Guide to Finals

It's that time of the semester: the library stays open 24/7 (and people literally move in, sleeping bags, coffee makers and all), pajamas become indistinguishable from day clothes, and its impossible to find flashcards in any store in a five mile radius.  Given the amount of stress that's running rampant, I thought I'd share some of my favorite survival tactics:

1) Dress it up.
         As tempting (and comfortable) it is to live in yoga pants and sweatshirts for a week, I've found that dressing up a bit for the actual exam can help reduce stress, raise confidence and increase focus.  Why?  Part of it is the association factor: pantyhose and pencil skirts are generally reserved for interviews and presentations--moments when I want the world to assume I'm the kind of person who's reliable and in control.  Not a fan of tights?  Plan ahead for some comfortable but polished outfits that make you feel good.  Sweats might be comfortable, but might make you more inclined to curl back up in bed.

2) Cleaning
Bright colors encouraged

        Whenever I have trouble focusing on a particular project (especially if it needs to be done Now), I find cleaning the immediate space I'm in can be a huge help.  Maybe there isn't time to give my entire room a thorough going-over, but even something as simple as clearing accumulated papers off my workspace and putting them away can do the trick.  There's a sense of having wiped the slate clean (not to mention having done something productive) and prepared to give the project my full attention. 

3) Get up, walk away, and move
       I know--when the essays have piled up and the study guides are knee-deep, it's tempting to hole up in the library and plow through.  Time spent on Other Things is time wasted, especially as it gets closer to exam time.  But getting up and getting outside--especially if it's nice out! --can keep Library Fever at bay.  Go for a run, take a stroll around campus, sit on a bench outside and stare at the trees--whatever it is, give your brain a break for a moment.

4) Sleep.  No really-- Sleep
A common library phenomenon

      As perhaps one of the worst night-owls on campus, I realize this sounds a bit hypocritical, but it's definitely a "do as I say, not as I do" moment.  While a considerable body of research has shown that pulling all-nighters impairs performance and memory, it's important to remember that even cutting back on your regular number of hours (be it eight or four--whatever leaves you feeling refreshed) isn't doing you any favors.  Ask a friend to watch your stuff, and take a 20-minute power nap (the ideal length of a nap); if you have more time to spare, try sleeping for multiples of 90 minutes, the length of a given sleep cycle.  Your body and mind will have a moment to reboot, and when your alarm goes off, you'll be more likely to be naturally coming out of deep sleep, and less prone to grogginess.  An added benefit?  Your brain is active when you sleep, especially your hypothalamus, responsible for memory.  So run those flash cards one last time before you go to bed; your brain will keep practicing while you sleep.

5) Something silly
     Your inner five-year-old probably knows how to burn off some of that stress; so go get some bubble mix and try to catch them before they pop; paint your toenails ridiculous colors; make a playlist of your favorite peppy music, and have a silent dance party in the stairwell (or between the stacks; people will probably laugh, therapy for everyone); make your favorite snack from when you were little (ants-on-a-log, anyone?); code your notes with stickers (remember the fuzzy rainbow unicorn ones?  I certainly do); make silent but ridiculous faces at your friend across the table.  It's impossible to frown and laugh at the same time.

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